Futurists see Flying Cars, Miracle Cures By Jack Cox, The Denver Post January 7, 2005 In the year 2015, babes barely able to talk will attend school, checkbooks could be a not-so-fond memory, doctors might have the ability to zap cells gone awry, and cars will drive themselves -- or maybe even fly. Most Americans have a hard time embracing the future beyond 2005 New Year's resolutions, but for some, contemplating what lies ahead is a full-time job, if not an obsession. These are the futurists, the trend-spotters, strategists, forecasters or visionaries. They will tell you about flying cars and miracle cures, but they also focus on the subtle aspects of life, or alert you to the possible use of DNA technology for nefarious purposes. Denver's Kim Long, for example, has given a lot of thought to what he sees as the next development in education: packed preschools. "The echo boomers in the leading edge of Generation Y are getting out of college and going into their prime child-bearing years, and this coincides with the tail-end of the baby boomers still having babies," says Long, the founder and editor of "The American Forecaster," an annual publication that goes to reference libraries, schools and businesses. Given the widespread support for early childhood education, Long foresees an era in which kindergarten could become mandatory and children might routinely be placed in preschool as early as the age of 2 "when kids are just learning to talk." New Poducts, Services Thomas Frey, a former IBM researcher who is perhaps the dean of local futurists, follows demographic trends, too. But his passion is anticipating the emergence of new products and services -- and the corresponding disappearance of old ones. "When you can predict that something will happen, you can extrapolate back and figure out what kind of breakthroughs are needed to make it come to pass. Out of this process, entrepreneurial opportunities arise," says Frey, the founder of a Louisville-based think tank known as the DaVinci Institute. Among his predictions for the next 10 years: the end of checkbooks, fax machines, AM-FM radios, cable TV, home phone lines, drill-and-fill dentistry and invasive surgery. Louis Hornyak, a University of Denver physicist who is spearheading a fledgling effort to promote nanotechnology in Colorado, says engineering at the molecular level may enhance everyday life in numerous ways: tennis balls that don't lose their bounce, car finishes that can't be scratched, mattresses that can't be stained. But the most satisfying advances, he suggests, may come in medicine, through the use of microscopic sensors that help doctors spot diseased or errant cells, then zap them with heat or chemicals. It's heady stuff, this vision of the techno-world of 2015. But there's more. Cyberspace Disappears Alex Pang, an expert on emerging technologies with the Institute of the Future in Palo Alto, Calif., sees the whole notion of cyberspace vanishing like spam sent to the delete box. "Today we tend to think of the World Wide Web in geographical language, as kind of a place you access through the window of your PC -- a fascinating, information-rich alternate universe," he says. But in the next 10 years, he says, computing will become part of our everyday reality, and the Internet as a place will disappear. But there's a dark side to infotech, too. Internet security consultant Ori Eisen of Phoenix, founder of a firm called The 41st Parameter, has made a business out of worrying about it. Specifically, Eisen believes that identity theft will continue to be a threat to commerce, but the bad guys won't be stealing just passwords and account numbers. They may be pilfering DNA to place people at the scene of crimes they never committed. As he envisions it, a criminal of the future could obtain a sample of DNA from someone (via a used Kleenex, perhaps), use recombinant technology to clone more of it, then deposit the genetic material in locations that would finger the unwitting victim. Call it "CSI" in reverse. Still, you may be wondering, what about flying cars? Tom Frey of the DaVinci Institute is convinced they'll be on the market within 10 years. A company in California is testing a prototype, and "both Honda and Toyota have groups dedicated to this." But given technical challenges and uncertainties about air traffic control for low-level flights, robotic vehicles may be a more likely prospect in the near term.